Does Technology Help Or Hurt In Achieving Mastery?

m-bridge-m-00Occasionally I drift slightly from the main topic of this blog to draw ideas from my other passions—in today’s case, from my passion for the performing arts in general, and musical performance in particular.

One of my musician friends sent me a web link to a gizmo that replaces the tuning mechanism on a guitar with one that automates the tuning process. Press a button, and the guitar tunes itself. We got into an interesting too and fro as to the merits of such a device (there are other similar devices on the market.)

A Self-Tuning Guitar? I don’t Get It!

I don’t want to come off like a Luddite, but the concept of a self-tuning guitar is problematic to me. From my perspective:

  • Guitar tuning is an important part of ear training. The feedback from a good guitar tuner (there are many types of electronic tuner, or tuning forks and even pitch pipes work fine) along with the aural feedback from listening to the plucked note, improves musical skills. Letting technology tune for you deprives you of this. I envisage a future of players brought up on auto-tuning gizmos that won’t know a flat from a sharp!
  • Tuning a guitar part of the Zen of musical performance. There is something of a ritual to tuning a guitar—something you do every time before you play. Tuning not only ensures your instrument sounds ‘right’ relative to other instruments (or to your own ear if you have perfect pitch) but it also helps get your head into the practice or performance you are about to embark upon.
  • Done properly, guitar tuning actually takes a fair amount of knowledge and skill. For example, knowing that you should always tune from below the target note, never from above, so that any slack in the tuning mechanism is taken up, and once tuned, the string is more likely to stay in tune. Knowing to always go back and re-tune each string, especially if there’s a tremolo device on the guitar, because the tension of one string can affect all others. Knowing all the alternate tunings (variations from “standard” tuning) increases ones versatility—just selecting “Open D” on an automatic tuner, for example, doesn’t help you learn the notes of an “Open D” tuned guitar. Acquiring these simple tuning skills and knowledge is part of learning to play—and of preparing to perform.
  • A guitar is almost always out of tune—it is so sensitive to temperature change that even a few degrees difference in ambient temperature will impact tuning. People who just pick up a guitar and play without tuning are usually out of tune, even though they say, “My guitar is great—it never goes out of tune!” If the temperature changed, or even the humidity (with certain types of guitar and strings) the tuning will have also changed.

So, gizmos that automate tuning are anathema to me. I say, “shame on Gibson for colluding with those who would like to take the musicianship out of music!” (On the other hand, it can be a great help if you play in a lot of different tunings and need to move rapidly from one tuning to another.)

Learning and Performance Support Tools? Those I Get!

On the other side of the “does technology help or hurt” balance sheet, there are a plethora of technologies that REALLY do help in learning an instrument and navigating the path to mastery. Here’s a few that I have used and from which I’ve benefited greatly.

Learning Aids

  • There are tools that let you slow things down as much as you want without changing pitch, or change pitch without changing speed. The latter is very handy for learning songs where the original performance was in some non-standard key (or where the entire band was out of tune!) These tools typically let you set loop points to focus on particularly fast or tricky sections of a song.
  • There are tools that have captured the musical scores (e.g., guitar tablature) for thousands of popular songs, and let you play along, slow them down, loop them, adjust the volume (or mute) particular tracks, and so on.
  • Tablet devices are very handy for holding and displaying musical scores, lyrics, chord sheets and even provide access to your MP3 library or to YouTube.

Performance Support

  • One of my favorite additions to my bag of tricks is my iPad and a Bluetooth-connected gizmo called AirTurn, which features a forward and backward pedal to silently turn pages on a tablet device. This is a tremendous learning aid—following a score while playing without having to worry about page turns. And for live performance, while it is infinitely better to have learned the music and/or lyrics, it can be very handy to be able to take a quick peek if needed!
  • In conjunction with AirTurn, I use the strangely-named Deep Dish Gigbook on my iPad to store and organize scores, songbooks, charts, lyrics, set lists, and so on. I used to carry around a half-dozen 2.5 inch 3-ring binders of music—weighed more than my guitar! Now I have far more content packed into a 1 pound device (that does so much more than my 3-ring binders!) This set up also lets me write notes on the score, and organize things into play lists—no struggling to remember what we’re playing next!

YouTube and Lesson Websites

YouTube is a goldmine of resources for learning an instrument and learning specific songs. There are a zillion lessons out there, many very professionally produced. And even beyond lessons, just watching an original performer (or someone who’s copying the original) can help you see the fingering, technique, and, in some cases, the gear they were using and, to a degree, how they achieved their tone. And if watching the performer does not provide insight into their tone, there are websites out there from people who’ve made their life’s work out of analyzing how some top musicians achieve their distinctive sound—information they are thrilled to share for free.

The Bottom Line?

Yes, technology absolutely can help with achieving mastery—or with simply getting started on a learning journey. But not all technology fulfills this promise. Some of it is pure gimmickry, maybe fun to have, but potentially derailing the learning process.

Photo courtesy of Mastery Bridge

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Is Business Relationship Management a Job, Role, Competence or Organizational Capability?

big-question-logo-300x185This question surfaced as I was working on the new Business Relationship Management Interactive Body of Knowledge, fondly known as the BRMiBOK (which has to be one of the ugliest acronyms around!)

The BRMiBOK is a wiki-based resource for members of Business Relationship Management Institute (BRMI). It runs on the Symcordia® platform, based on the Confluence Enterprise Wiki and Collaboration software.

Is Business Relationship Management a Job?

Although in practice it goes by many different titles, most people think of Business Relationship Management as a job—an organizational position with a formal job description. I know hundreds of people with a job as a BRM. I’ve trained many of them, consulted to some of them, and coached quite a few of them. A high proportion of the hundreds of BRMI members have BRM jobs, as do many of the several thousand members of the LinkedIn Professional Business Relationship Managers group. Some actually have the title Business Relationship Manager, but others go by Business Partner, IT Partner, Account Manager, and so on.

Confusing the topic, most banks and financial institutions actually do use the job title “Business Relationship Manager,” and there are tens of thousands of them! Unfortunately, in this domain, the banking BRM bears little in common with the types of BRM served by BRMI, or trained to the standards demanded by the BRMP® certification.

As a job, the Business Relationship Manager is typically a full-time position, hopefully (though not always) with a clear career path defining where BRMs come from, and where they might aspire to go to next in their career progression.

So, to answer “The Big Question” of this post’s title—yes, Business Relationship Management can be a job.

Is Business Relationship Management a Role?

As a role, BRM implies that the person filling that role may also fill other roles—Project Manager, Program Manager, Senior Business Analyst, are fairly common roles we see being filled by people who also fill the BRM role. This arrangement is sometimes called “role-sharing.” In theory, the BRM role could be filled by multiple people in a job-sharing arrangement, though I have never actually seen this.

So, again, to answer “The Big Question”—yes, Business Relationship Management can be a role. However, given the challenges of successfully filling the BRM position, there are some dangers in having the BRM fill other roles:

  1. Bandwidth. To really be effective, unless it’s a very small and simple business, fulfilling the BRM mission, to stimulate, surface and shape business demand for a Provider’s products and services and ensure that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and recognized is both extremely valuable and rather intensive. So, short changing it can be hazardous to the health of the BRM and likely to limit successful accomplishment of the mission.
  2. Credibility. Serving the BRM mission requires that the BRM’s Business Partner have total clarity on the role and purpose of Business Relationship Management. To engage the BRM as a Program Manager one day, and as a thought partner in strategy formulation the next day may strain credibility and understanding.
  3. Mental whiplash. The demand shaping and strategic nature of the BRM role demands divergent and creative thinking. The procedural and organizational nature of roles such as Project and Program Management demand convergent thinking. It’s not that humans aren’t capable of both—but rapid context shifting from one style to the other can be hard to sustain. Like multi-tasking, it might feel workable, but when you look back you realize that it was neither productive nor effective.

Is Business Relationship Management a Competence?

The answer here is clearly “yes”—some are born with a degree of BRM competence, many can develop strong BRM competence, and others will never really be effective at managing business relationships.

I’ve worked with many BRMs who are “unconsciously competent.” When they decide to develop that competence, they can become “consciously competent” and thereby able to perform more consistently. They are also better at developing others, as their tacit knowledge becomes explicit.

Is Business Relationship Management an Organizational Capability?

This to me is the most interesting of “The Big Questions.” When I think of the term “capability”, I think about everything it takes behind the scenes that makes an service possible. This can include:

  • One or more processes.
  • Definitions of the roles needed to perform one or more procedures within a process.
  • Definitions of the competencies needed to perform a given role.
  • An appropriate supply of competent human resources filling given roles.
  • Tools and technologies needed to automate or execute necessary processes or procedures.
  • Management systems necessary to ensure the health and performance of the capability, including funding, organizational will, personal motivation, and so on.

And, dear reader, these are often the elements missing when a new BRM role, or job or group is established. The role may be defined, perhaps even be staffed by a competent performer. But without the organizational capabilities, the role will have a hard time realizing sustained success!

Would you like to develop your Business Relationship Management Competency? Would you like to earn a BRMP® Professional Certification? Register for our upcoming courses by clicking here.
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Strategic Planning and Business Relationship Management – Tips and Traps from the Field

blue-ocean-strategy-640x416In our upcoming BRMI Webinar Strategic Planning Tools for the BRM (January 31, 11a-12p EST) we will be mainly focused on Strategic Planning Tools and Techniques, so I wanted to lead into that webinar with a few “tips and traps from the field.” These are drawn from some 30 years of strategic planning experience, mostly in developing what I like to call “business-IT strategies.”

And, to be clear, as a consultant I was doing the work of a Business Relationship Manager—much of business relationship management is consulting!

But There Is No Business Strategy!

My first tip initially surfaced about 25 years ago. I had the privilege to be presenting at a Society for Information Management CIO conference in Arizona. The keynote speaker was Professor F. Warren McFarlane, Harvard Business School. His presentation to a very large group of Chief Information Officers (about 300 as I recall) was on business-IT alignment. When it came time for Q&A, one CIO asked the killer question:

Everything you suggest about aligning IT strategy with the business strategy makes sense—except that in our company there is no business strategy!  What am I to do?

McFarlane roared in his inimitable style:

You CIOs always make the same mistake (going to the flip chart next to his lectern). You draw two boxes, one above the other. The top box you label ‘Business Strategy’ and the bottom box you label ‘IT Strategy’, and you draw arrows in both directions connecting the boxes. Then you complain that the top box is empty. It’s time you realized that THE TOP BOX IS ALWAYS EMPTY and as a CIO it’s your job to FILL THE TOP BOX!

In my own experience, this scenario has played out many times. I’d be hired by a CIO to develop an IT strategy on the premise that there was a complete business strategy. Once the engagement began, it became quite apparent that there was no business strategy—just a bunch of financial targets, and perhaps some ‘slogans’ (e.g. Increase share of customer wallet!) with no clue as to how the targets were to be achieved!

From IT Strategy to Business-IT Strategy – The Twist That Made The Difference

My solution? Quietly rename the goal of our work from “develop the IT Strategy” to “develop the Business-IT Strategy” and use this as a ruse to engage business executives in thinking about their goals and how information and Information Technology could help achieve them (and more)! So, we would approach the senior business executives with the explanation that we were developing a Business-IT Strategy and needed to ensure we really understood and were enabling the business strategy. There were several significant outcomes from this approach:

  1. There now was an “operationalizable” business strategy for achieving the financial goals. The slogans now had specific initiatives and plans as to how they were to be achieved.
  2. There was an aligned (actually, business-integrated) IT strategy for enacting the business strategy and achieving the financial goals.
  3. Business and IT strategies were not separate deliverables—they were integrated—you could not examine the business strategy without being exposed to the IT strategy and vice-versa.
  4. The approach helped break down walls, create common language and mutual understanding.
  5. The inter-dependencies between business and IT became clear. The old maxim, “Businesses get the IT they deserve!” took on a new and constructive meaning.
  6. The relationship between the business executives and the IT organization were dramatically improved.
  7. Business leadership and IT leadership were aligned around a set of goals, with programs and projects to achieve those goals.
  8. There weren’t “business programs” and “IT programs”—just “programs” so they stayed aligned.

This Business-IT Strategy approach worked well for me many times. As an interesting variation on this scenario, once (not that many years ago!) when a CIO first approached me to help develop an IT strategy and I asked about the quality of the business strategy, he said:

There is a business strategy but it’s secret!

As clarification, I asked did he mean secret from me?  “No!” he replied. It was even secret from him! The good news was that by coming at the IT strategy work as a Business-IT Strategy we achieved the goal, and fleshed out what turned out to be a very ‘thin’ strategy that was mostly predicated on growth by acquisition and they did not want that fact to get out to potential acquirees.

We Have A Robust Strategic Planning Methodology!

Another relatively common trap is illustrated by a very different situation that I was involved in a few years ago with a global transportation and logistics company. I was retained to help them develop their IT strategy and was told that the business really did have a very formal and robust strategy development process, managed by their Corporate Strategy Office. This was a really big deal for the company, and mid-level and senior managers from around the globe were brought into headquarters for days, and in some cases, weeks, to work through the strategic planning effort. I was delighted! It’s always exciting to work with a mature and successful company with great management disciplines!

When A Robust Methodology Becomes a Trap

Once I got on the ground with my client, a couple of realities became clear:

  1. The Corporate Strategy Office was not very strategic! Their methodology was mostly around financial numbers—the same kind of “management by accountants” that almost killed my favorite brands, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Fender musical instruments. “Remove a bolt here and a clip there—nobody will notice and we’ll save 6 cents on every unit!” The same thinking almost killed the Detroit auto business until Japan, Inc. woke them up!
  2. When I asked how IT was involved in the strategic planning approach, I got a very blank stare! “Why would IT be involved in strategy formulation?”

In this case, finding an excuse to meet with the leadership team on the guise of clarifying some directional questions that could have significant implications for IT platforms and investment got me to a meeting where I asked a bunch of powerful questions about business strategy. Within days, IT leaders were added to all the strategic planning teams. Also, the rigorous methodology was “relaxed” to enable some real strategic issues and their information and IT implications to be debated. The outcome was highly valued and led to significant changes in the business model and executive office—and to an update of the methodology!

Lessons Learned for the BRM?

  1. Be wary when you are told there is a business strategy.
  2. A strong business strategy is a nice thing to have, but a weak one, or, even better, a lack of business strategy is a golden opportunity for the BRM to have a real impact.
  3. When you hear the terms “Business Strategy” or “IT Strategy”, ask yourself (and your stakeholders), “How can we turn this into a Business-IT Strategy?”
  4. When you hear there is a robust Strategic Planning Methodology, find out how key IT resources are engaged in that process and what are the key deliverables. If there is not a Business-IT Strategy, how can you shape the process to create one?

Image courtesy of socialmedia today

[Note: This post originally appeared on the BRMI website on January 16, 2014]

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Measuring the Impact of Business Relationship Management Capability

roi1One of the questions I frequently get goes something like this:

We’re setting up a Business Relationship Management (BRM) Capability. How should we measure our impact?

A common corollary to this question (often suggested by the questioner as a potential answer) is:

What’s the best way for a Business Relationship Manager to measure their customer’s satisfaction?

The Ultimate Measure of Success – Business Value Realized

I typically start the conversation by asking my questioner:

What were the primary reasons you decided to establish a BRM capability? In particular, what would your Business Partners (customers) most want to see out of the relationship?

The response to this relatively straightforward question is usually telling—first in the noticeable pause before they are able to respond, then in the fuzziness of their response. I guess the old cliché, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do!” applies here. If you don’t know why the BRM capability was established, it’s no wonder why you are having a hard time figuring out metrics!

I firmly believe that Business Relationship Management exists to serve two important purposes:

  1. To stimulate, surface and shape business demand for a Provider’s products and services and ensure that the potential business value from those products and services is captured, optimized and recognized.
  2. To shape the Provider’s products and services and ensure that they are optimized to meet the business value demand.

First, before you even get too far into measurement, you need to get really clear with your stakeholders—both Business Partner and Provider stakeholders—as to the goals and expectations for your BRM capability. This will help you ensure role clarity in the context of intended purposes and determine appropriate metrics for measuring the impact of the role.

The Tenets of Business Value Measurement

There are all sorts of challenges (many well-documented) with measuring business value, but over my many years of management consulting, I’ve discovered some basic tenets of business value measurement:

  1. There are important intermediary steps between ‘inputs’ (the cost of which is an important element of net value realized) and ‘impacts’ (the business value actually experienced by key stakeholders).
  2. Trying to figure out how business value will be manifested and how this manifestation will be tracked and measured is always illuminating and clarifying, even if you don’t end up with a perfect metric.
  3. Shifting the focus of BRM measurement to business value sends a very important message to the organization about what’s really important and why BRM capability has been established.

Let’s look at these tenets a little more closely.

1. From Inputs to Impacts

You can’t simply say things like, “This project will create $x business value.” The reality is more likely something like, “This project (and its inputs), the results of which will depend upon Q infrastructure capabilities (more inputs) and R and S projects (yet more inputs), will enable T change in business capability (outputs) which will increase sales effectiveness by U% within V months (outcomes) which will be worth W (impact) to the organization. Sorting through the value chain from inputs to impacts begins to get a handle on how business value is to be created and how it could be measured. As importantly, it will suggest intermediary results that can be measured, and may, in fact, be important leading indicators for the final impacts.

2. Dialog About Value Measures Is Clarifying

Sorting through the value chain from inputs to impacts, especially when that process involves key stakeholders, leads to a couple of important qualities:

  1. Stakeholders get much clearer on the value chain and what it will actually take to realize the business value being targeted.
  2. In gaining clarity, stakeholders gain buy-in and commitment to the initiatives associated with moving from Inputs to Impacts.

3. Position Business Relationship Management as a Value Driver

Tell your Business Partner that you are there to improve service quality and she will probably be mildly pleased. Tell her you are there to help drive business value from Provider services and solutions, and she will be downright excited!

But actions trump words every time! Engage your Business Partner is the kinds of value-clarifying dialog outlined above, and you don’t have to tell them why Business Relationship Management has been established—they will have experienced the reason and be telling others about the power of BRM! Positioning Business Relationship Management properly is crucial to getting on a meaningful path to success. All to often, I’ve seen BRM positioned too low in the food chain, where Business Partners, especially those in executive positions, really don’t care and won’t invest their time to engage.

The Corollary Question

And what about the customer satisfaction question: “What’s the best way for a Business Relationship Manager to measure their customer’s satisfaction?”

I’ll get to that in a subsequent post!  (Yes, dear reader, I want you to visit this blog again!)

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Is Business-IT Alignment Still An Issue?

655176_6609273_lzI was posting on this topic more than 5 years ago (for a selection of posts on this see here) and would never have dreamed of returning to it if it had not been for a flurry of responses to a conversation someone started on a LinkedIn group.  The conversation began with this question:

What can IT do to better align itself with the needs of the business?

Responses were all over the map—some thoughtful, some trite, some tongue in cheek, others dismissive. Some even became argumentative. Most were ‘motherhood and apple pie’—hard to fault, but not very insightful or helpful. Few of them, if any, added anything new. Some shared my view that the whole notion of “alignment” was way past its sell-by date.  A CIO still struggling to achieve alignment has not only missed that boat, but has failed to recognize that for those that must cover great distances, boat travel was replaced by jet travel years ago (to push the transportation metaphor way too far!)

From Alignment to Convergence

As one CIO noted:

That type of [business-IT alignment] thinking went the way of the flip phone many years ago. IT, like all other disciplines, is part of the business—integrated into it. When is the last time you heard that manufacturing, accounting, marketing, distribution, or clinical care is aligned with the business? They are the business, and IT is embedded into each and every one of them.

But while it’s easy to object to the “we/they” language that positions IT as something separate from the business, and interesting to ponder what it means to “integrate IT into the business”, what does that mean in practice?  And how do you get there?

IT Covers Too Much Territory to be a Useful Unit of Analysis

First, I believe it’s important to break IT down into major components. Architecting and operating a shared IT infrastructure (networks, data centers, etc.) is quite different from discovering new opportunities to innovate a business model. Protecting information security and integrity is very different from re-engineering a business process to improve the customer experience. Rather than bundle all IT-related activities under one grand acronym, thinking through the nature of business-IT convergence becomes much more manageable when you think in terms of  7-9 IT capabilities. Some of these capabilities (conceive business value solutions, for example) clearly belong embedded in the “business of the business.”  Others (e.g., manage infrastructure and services) are best managed by specialists and shared across business units and processes as reliable, predictable and well-managed services.

Enter Business Relationship Management

Key to business-IT alignment is the role, discipline and organizational capability of Business Relationship Management. The concept of Business Relationship Management is related to and employs the techniques and disciplines of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). However, while CRM most often refers to a company’s external customers, Business Relationship Management typically deals with a company’s internal customers. Simply stated, IT Business Relationship Management stimulates, surfaces and shapes business demand for IT services and capabilities and ensures that the potential business value is captured, optimized and recognized.

If it sometimes feels like there is a wall between the IT organization and the business it serves, Business Relationship Management represents a perfectly transparent window in that wall—an opening through which the IT organization becomes part of the business it services, and the business becomes part of the IT organization serving it. An opening that magically translates business-speak into IT-speak and vice versa. That allows the IT professionals to become business savvy and the business professionals to become IT savvy. An opening through which business and IT integrate, or converge over time.

Image courtesy of søciety6

IT Organization Circa 2017 – 2013 in Review

I started this blog over 6 years ago, with a focus on the changing shape of the IT organization. I regret that 2013 was my least active blogging year, but I don’t regret that my co-founding this year of Business Relationship Management Institute, and specifically, my work with APMG-International on the development of the Business Relationship Management Professional® Certification exam kept me so busy that my blog had to ‘rest’ for a while. So, my New Year’s resolution is to get back to posting every week or so—as long as I have something that I think needs to be said!

Meanwhile, the stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog—so with a Happy, Healthy New Year to my readers, here you go!

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 64,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

New Business Relationship Management Online Training Course

BRMP Class AdDue to incredible demand, BRMI is offering another fully interactive Business Relationship Management Professional® or BRMP online course next month. It will be delivered in three full-day Monday sessions, over three weeks. These sessions will be held from 9:00AM to 4:30PM EST, on December 2, 9 and 16. Participants are required to attend each full day of all three sessions.

I am very pleased to be personally delivering this course! The program was designed for entry-level to intermediate BRMs and has been created to provide a solid baseline level of knowledge. So if you are just beginning your BRM journey or would like to learn more about BRM, this is a great course for you. This is also perfect for those who are considering taking on a BRM role or are setting up a BRM group in their organization and  require a better understanding of the necessary BRM skills. This is a great course so sign up now and reserve your place!

To learn more about the course outline, check out our Professional Development page. You can also contact us at or call us at +1.888.848.3012 for more information. To register, click here.

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